317 – AFI Fest Day Eight

day eight

I know it feels like I have been covering AFI Fest for a month, but it has really only been about a week. Everything ends tonight, as the final film of the festival will most likely be done screening by the time this review is posted. Aside from the four or five movies that were always going to play tonight, the festival also offered repeat screenings of a few of their award winners, which were announced earlier today.

The following awards were handed out:

New Auteurs Jury Prize – Self Made
Special Jury Award – The Tribe
Special Jury Mention (Screenwriting) – Gueros
Special Jury Mention (Conematography) – Violet
World Cinema Audience Award – Red Army
New Auteurs Audience Award – Gueros
American Independents Audience Award – 10,000 KM
Breakthrough Audience Award – The Midnight Swim

There were some shorts awards as well, but I didn’t see any shorts so…

Those who have been religiously following my coverage may notice that of all the award winners I only saw one. The Tribe is absolutely deserving of whatever prize a given body wishes to bestow upon it. The movie is inventive and stylish, and I hope to see it get some sort of American release down the line.

The Tribe is also one of the four films AFI Fest chose to rerun today, along with Self Made, The Midnight Swim, and Red Army. Since I didn’t get a chance to see most of these, I took the opportunity to do so.

self made

Self Made is an Israeli film about two women in the Middle East, whose lives begin to shift dramatically. Michal (Sarah Adler) is a famous Israeli artist who experiences retrograde amnesia after receiving a head injury. Nadine (Samira Saraya) is a Palestinian girl whose head has always been in the metaphorical clouds. Both young women stumble through their lives, unhappy with what they find, hoping that an opportunity for change might present itself.

The movie is not as straightforward as that description through, especially toward the end. Writer-director Shira Geffen takes the film down a fanciful path, but she doesn’t really follow through on the promise of these surreal moments. At the very least the film is a refreshing take on the Israel/Palestine conflict, if tinged with more than a little bit of cynicism.

the midnight swim

The Midnight Swim is much more upfront. The film depicts the homecoming of three sisters – Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), Isa (Aleksa Palladino), and June (Lindsay Burdge) – after their mother (Beth Grant) dies in a diving accident in the lake behind her house. The lake has built up its own mythology over the years, including a tale about seven sisters who drowned trying to save one another years and years ago. Once the present-day sisters attempt to summon a spirt from the lake, strange things begin occurring, and they are forced to wonder how successful they were.

Sarah Adina Smith’s debut feature plays with the conventions of found footage horror movies – a degree of social anxiety drives June to film everything – while making the audience question if anything scary will ever actually happen. Unfortunately that anticipation-building seems to be the only goal of the film. Well, the only successful goal. The rest of the movie is just really rote family drama, and none of it is even executed that effectively. Lafleur especially is tasked with delivering a lot of angst, but she is not always up to the task. The movie gets a little interesting toward the end, as some new information is revealed about one of the characters, but it is too little too late. The damage is done, and the ending doesn’t do much to justify the means.

After two of my most disappointing AFI Fest experiences, I figured I would cut my losses and skip Red Army. Who knows what kind of metric was used to determine the winners – this just goes to show you can’t blindly trust awards. The Tribe and Fish & Cat would have been much better choices over Self Made and The Midnight Swim, relatively. But maybe I’m being unfair. Surely I expected more from these films just based on the fact that they have no received a certain level of recognition. Thus the likelihood of me coming away dissatisfied increased. It’s classic Best Picture Syndrome.

I saw 15 movies at this year’s AFI Fest. A week ago I figured I would see a whole lot more, but sometimes life gets in the way. I’m not too disappointed though, as I saw a few really excellent movies (the aforementioned The Tribe and Fish & Cat, Stations of the Cross, What We Do in the Shadows). Even the bad ones weren’t that bad. AFI Fest was a rousing success. Only 51 weeks until the next one.

Thanks for following along on this adventure with Steven. You can find all of his coverage here.

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